So we went for a walk this Sunday - as we normally do.
But there was one minor change to our morning routine.
And… yeahhhh… I’ve officially become - that person. You know, the one who pushes a doggy stroller around town...
Not ashamed. Not embarrassed. Not sad. Not mocking. And not making fun.
Quite the opposite in fact.
I’m soooooo happy. Very happy. Overjoyed.
I actually know quite a few people who have a doggie stroller in their life, and all who do are sincerely happy with their purchase. They are the ones who gave me the idea in the first place, long ago.
This amazing contraption and piece of complete and utter materialism was one of the best purchases I have ever made for the life and health and welfare of my precious little angel pooch...
My dog is - sadly - getting older.
Whether I like to admit it or not.
This purchase has been a long time coming. A very long time.
My little sugar plum fairy has had arthritis for many years. She limps, and tries, to keep going. Continually moving. Little things hurt her and if she jumps up a chair or down the stairs wrong she’s in a lot of pain for days. And then she limps more. Thus, her walks are increasingly shorter and shorter. But she loves her daily adventures and loves being outside. As is the life of a dog.
And really, this whole pandemic “thing” going on in the world is what made me decide to go ahead and just buy the darn thing already.
Cause there’s nothing like a pandemic surrounding a respiratory virus to prove how important fresh air really is.
And our walks must go on. So the first day of this whole crisis that our little creature started limping, once again... was the very day I went ahead and placed the order.
I refuse to have her “stuck” at home just because she couldn’t walk very far. Especially with her humans still out there exercising and walking and getting their fresh air - and the world in crisis… It just didn’t seem right to have to cut the walk short for her, or leave her at home altogether, just so we could go on a very long walk without her.
So I made the executive decision to visit Chewy.com. And I quickly bought what I’m calling her buggy - her new ride.
Now Miss Madeline can ride around town in style. And not miss out. On FRESH AIR. That we all need in this life. Plague - or no plague. Because fresh air can do wonders. For doggies too!
So I purchased the Paws & Pals Deluxe Folding Dog & Cat Stroller, in black. The cost was $129.99, plus $9.10 in tax, for a total of $139.09. And yes, you can zip a cat in the netting, allowing them to sit, safely, so they can’t escape! How cool!
Free shipping goes along with any purchase through Chewy costing $49.00 or more. And I set up a free Chewy account while I was at it - so now we can order dog food and medicine and other supplies if needed as well.
I don’t anticipate needing to buy much from the site, as most all of her purchases are made at Petsmart, in person, and not online. But then again, I’m always happy to try out new or different pet suppliers.
And mostly I’m just happy we finally made this purchase for our little angel.
Then the day came when our stroller “finally” arrived to us - with impressively fast shipping actually. And we went on a lovely Sunday morning stroll. And I’m so happy that Madeline absolutely loved her buggy! She walked shorter than her usual route - and slower - and I could tell she was done, tired, in pain. This was when we normally would have gone immediately home. But noooo - not today! Prepared for everything - we finally were!
We plopped our little ball of fluff into her new and comfy seat. We gave her some ice water. And then we continued onward. We walked for a much longer time period. Like - a lot longer. We walked a length that Madeline never would have been able to do and something I usually do all by myself. But this Sunday we were able to do it as a family of three! For the very first time.
So it was a very good Sunday indeed.
And we even made it to The Delicomb - once again. Enroute home on our walk, we just so happened to walk past the coffee shop, and quickly ordered two large lattes to go. You know I didn’t happen to plan things that way, right?
And then, as our lovely Sunday morning stroll was reaching its conclusion, we were headed toward home and sipping our coffee, I saw something blue on the ground. I can’t see for anything, and from a distance I thought it was a piece of trash. But we got closer and I let out a gasp.
If there is any reason to love Jax Beach that does not include the ocean - it is for all the little things. Yes, these little things. Like rocks! I found another scavenger hunt rock!
People all over town paint rocks in their spare time and hide them - some hidden very, very well - camouflaged and tucked away - and some hidden more so in plain site, sitting out front-and-center - so people like me can actually find them.
And I have never met a painted rock I didn’t like.
And today’s rock was no exception.
On the front is usually the artistic and painted design. And on the back is usually written who made the rock and/or how to tag it online to acknowledge the find. #jaxbeachrocks on Facebook is the usual group that I tend to find from. But I’ve found some from much farther away too. After you tag online you can then rehide it - so someone else who may just need a rock in their life at this very moment - can also get in on the fun.
And some rocks do not come with a tag and you can keep them for your rock collection if you like. I have a small rock collection going right now sitting in my art studio. They bring me joy every time I look at them. And that is exactly the whole gosh darn point.
There is joy in all the little things in life. And whether we like it or not, life is still going on. And we have to keep going. And we have to keep walking too.
I learned a long time ago a very simple equation:
MOVEMENT = LIFE
So even though my little doggie is getting older. I have found a way for her to keep moving. I’ve found a way for her to still get her fresh air. For her to see the world around her. As I breathed in the delicious and heavenly scent of all the flowers blooming around me. I have found a way for Madeline to do the very same. For her to still keep moving and breathing and living. And soaking up all that surrounds her.
And while this societal and economic crisis is affecting the pocketbook to the extreme right now, there isn’t a penny I wouldn’t spend on my little baby to help allow her to have her very best life possible while she is on this Earth. And if buying a doggie stroller allows her to have some more time with us during our day, seeing new things, and going farther on a walk than her four little paws could ever take her, then $139.09 is sincerely worth it to me right now… Plague or no plague.
Since this entire crisis began it has been food and rent. Food and rent. Nothing extra. Nothing extravagant.
But that doesn’t count for Madeline. I would happily even go into deep and severe credit card debt if it meant even the chance of saving her life somehow. So this cost was so worth it to me, and really not even a significant investment in comparison to the absolute joy it brought her - instantly.
If you have a dog. And your dog is older or hurting and in some sort of pain, or injured or disabled. And if you have been on the fence about buying a dog stroller. Or if you have a cat - and always dreamed of bringing them along on a walk. I am here to tell you to go ahead and make that silly and ridiculous and oh-so-funny of a purchase. Yes - it might just be the most comical purchase of your life.
And - It may make a lot of people laugh at you along your walking route while you’re on your Sunday morning stroll.
But guess what - they’re not actually laughing at you - they’re really just laughing with you.
Because it also may just bring your whole family together.
And it may even bring you rocks.
And mostly, it may just bring you some very needed JOY. ~
*Do you have a doggy stroller? Have you ever considered purchasing one but are on the fence? I’d so love to know your thoughts. Drop me a comment down below:
Also, if you’re enjoying my stories - straight and freshly squeezed from The Sunshine State, check out some more of my other adventures right here:
67] Delicious & Delightful Days @ The Delicomb
65] The Sea Life ~ Happy Easter
64] Stay-At-Home Sunday ~ Palm Sunday
63] Mercy & Comfort
62] PERSPECTIVE @ Seaside Sculpture Park
61] Bean’s Idea List ~ 15 Daily Activities For Well Beyond 15 Days
60] Welcome To Muffin Land ~ The Ugly Cupcake & Muffinry
55] The Shamrock
52] Keeping Cool - And Creamy ~ In Key West
51] Life Is Full Of Pasta-Bilities ~ Bean’s Red Sauce Recipe
50] Sundays Are For Diners ~ Super Diners
49] A Picture Worth A Thousand Words ~ Happy Valentine’s Day, World
48] Love & Donuts In The Air @ Beaches For Australia
46] Key Largo, Montego, Baby Why Don’t We Go?
44] Nothing Finer Than Coffee In The Keys ~ The Coffee Plantation Cafe
42] Where Does The Chicken Cross The Road?
41] Minnie The Daschund Mouse & Her Birthday Wish
39] The Very Official & Quite Serious Donut Debate Of 2020
38] The Year Of The Sweater ~ Bean’s Minestrone Soup Recipe
32] Jolly Holiday In Jarboe Park ~ The Beaches Green Market
31] Tuesday’s On First Street ~ The Jax Beach Art Walk ~
22] Saturday On San Pablo Island
3] The Dog Days Of Endless Summer
You know how life is just a bowl of cherries?
Well, how about how life is just a strainer full of heart pasta?
I’ve been making pasta with my own red sauce for years and years now. 20 years to be exact... And pasta always sounds good to me.
And while I’ve never made such adorable heart-shaped noodles to go along with my sauce until this month, I’ve always put a lot of heart into the recipe and the act of cooking it.
Back during my sophomore year in college, I was able to room and board in the newest dormitory housing style available on campus at that time. Now formally named after a donor to the college, back then the building was simply called “The Townhouses” - and it was, and is, in my opinion, the best dorm on campus of the small liberal arts college I attended back years ago.
So, going from a tiny and basic dorm room during my freshman year, into a suite of rooms connected with a kitchenette inside a shared living room, my second year, I was living the very best life for me at the time. And I loved that dorm as much as I loved my studies there.
The other amazing thing about The Townhouses, was the basement sitting deep underneath it.
The building houses a vast and open traditional basement, set up feeling just like a house. Even complete with a full kitchen downstairs. You know, for all the scratch made meals, Thanksgiving dinners, and home-cooked Sunday brunches that college students make on a regular basis while doing their coin laundry next to the computer lab.
And while that kitchen sat empty and collecting dust much of the year. I was determined to make use of it.
Eager to cook.
And very desperate for a home-cooked meal.
So when I realized one of the benefits of living in The Townhouses was that I was allowed free-reign over that basement kitchen, I knew I wanted to get down those stairs to that windowless basement and make myself right at home.
And, standing there looking at this really fun feature of my dorm, I immediately knew I wanted to do something special.
So, instead of just cooking a simple dinner for one, or two, or for even all my suite-mates, I had this grand and elaborate idea of cooking for the entire cross country team.
If you’re familiar with cross country and track, then you know about the traditional Friday night pasta dinners that go along with it.
Many such events were hosted by our coaches and assistant coaches, or alums, each and every week throughout the long autumn season of NCAA Division III athletics.
Well, I guess I decided I wanted in on this long-standing tradition and fun cooking festivity and celebration. I had a kitchen... I had a kitchen and I was going to use it.
I told everyone... pasta party at The Townhouses.
And word spread fast.
Not via cell phones.
And certainly not even through simple messaging or texting.
Four years before Facebook was invented.
Literally - just word of mouth.
And, knowing that I had just committed myself to host a team pasta party, I had to get supplies…
With little money - no credit card, or even a debit card yet, and a bit of cash, I went shopping.
I remember buying lots of boxes of pasta noodles. And lots of cans and jars of all that tomato-ey goodness.
With no recipe to follow...
I was getting myself ready to make A.LOT. Of sauce.
But before I could start cooking, and become Chef Bean in the kitchen of my dreams, in the windowless basement of a large building, I had to do one more thing.
I probably shouldn’t have told everyone that I was going to be cooking pasta and sauce for them without checking that basement kitchen for supplies… Or even merely for some pots???
Yes, there was a kitchen, but it was only after the informal and casual invite went out that I then discovered there were no pots, pans, mitts, serving utensils. Etc. Something… anything…. essential to the meal preparation - essential to any chef. But all things that a college student on a meal plan would not ever need to be thinking about.
If I needed it to pull off Bean’s Basement Bash with success, it was NOT going to happen at this rate.
I needed to buy a whole lot of stuff.
And I mostly needed a pot...
And so, without access to a car, I was limited to walking distance of the college. And I went shopping.
I was in search of a kitchen supply store.
Naperville, Illinois is part of a small and gorgeous downtown - a very nice, upscale, expensive, and fancy, and wonderful downtown. And while I do very much love downtown Naperville, there’s not much shopping a college student could do there any day of the week.
Knowing I couldn't drive anywhere, I looked up kitchen supply stores closest to me, and found a place called: Williams Sonoma...
Ok? I hope that's really a kitchen store? …..
Never heard of it at the time.
I walked there.
I went inside.
And I immediately knew I was in big trouble.
As my jaw dropped... at the prices….
Of the most beautiful copper pots my eyes had ever seen. I asked if they had anything less expensive? Oblivious, and not knowing anything about the store that I was standing inside.
The price tags sent me away in quite a little hurry. Actually, the price tags practically pushed me out the door and slammed it in my face.
But not before I took one last glance at the shiny, beautiful, and DREAMY copper pots. I stood outside the doors of the shop. Clueless. Shocked. And feeling very, very defeated.
Face to face with breathtaking pots, way over my price range, I said goodbye to Williams Sonoma. I said goodbye to a store that is now one of my favorite stores in any shopping mall it resides within. I may not own much of anything from there, still to this day… but I thoroughly enjoy looking at all the products when out and about. Browsing and dreaming.
And I didn’t know much about copper back then either. I just knew I liked the look of it. It brought back memories of Sunday with my father’s side of the family - the Italian side of my family. Sunday’s meant cooking in big old pots. And copper on the backsplash walls of my Papa and Grandma’s old kitchen - sitting inside their old house in the city of Chicago.
And also to this very day, I have a digital list on my phone, sitting in my notes app, entitled: Bean’s List.
I have lots of lists in my life:
I have Rory Gilmore pro-and-con lists.
I have grocery lists.
Two Week Plan lists.
I have lots of lists.
But my favorite list of all is Bean’s List.
Bean’s List is simply my ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING list. It’s my DREAM list.
It’s random. It’s anything I want to buy. And it’s everything I cannot afford.
It’s goals and wants and desires and dreams.
It’s my fun list.
And on that list - a list that I used to house on physical paper - sits a copper pot from Williams Sonoma.
Yes, I’ve now wanted a real copper pot for 20 years. 20 freaking years… Since the year 2000, during my sophomore year in college. Since Bean’s first Basement Bash held outside the walls of my family home growing up. Since my pasta party for the cross country team. Since that day I was in literal shock, and since the day my jaw sat on the ground as I dragged myself out of Williams Sonoma. Since the day I goodbye to the kitchen store of my dreams.
That’s how long I have wanted my own piece of copper to place inside my very own kitchen.
A beautiful, shiny, new, dreamy, and very large, copper pot. One that was sitting high up on the highest shelf in the expensive and wonderful Williams Sonoma.
Someday I will get that copper pot.
Even if I have absolutely zero space in my small kitchen to store it. I don’t care. I will sit it out on display somewhere. It can be housed on my stove top for all I care. That way I can stare at it. And dream of parties. Dream of cooking. Dream of cooking for other people. Dream of carb-loading for cross country meets. Dream of my grandparents house as a child. A small kitchen, with lots of food, lots of laughs. Italian Papa cooking the red sauce, Irish grandma talking with us kiddos. And copper hanging on the wall of the kitchen backsplash.
So that’s why a Williams Sonoma copper pot has been on Bean’s List for over twenty years now...
And yes, I ended up finding a pot for that party. And, I ended up hosting the Bash, just as planned. And yes, it was a fun night.
It was so fun that I never forgot that night. That Bash. At a place where any night and every night is a good night for a party - college. That night - was a great night.
And today, I don’t remember how well the food turned out? I don’t remember what ingredients I used in my first attempt at red sauce?
I just remember the joy of cooking. But mostly, I remember the joy of cooking for other people. And wanting for as many people as humanly possible to feast from that pot of sauce.
And that’s why red sauce is such an important meal to me, why we make it all the time, why we love it dearly, and why I wanted to share it with you today... Today - during the season of love… and during the month of Valentines… and red… and hearts. A time for simple - and shareable - red sauce.
But regardless of how many people one is cooking for. And regardless of the size of the pot. And regardless of the brand name of the pot that the meal is being cooked within. In the end, maybe cooking doesn’t have to be about any of that.
Maybe it’s about all the heart and soul that is poured, and grounded, and crushed, and chopped, and heated, and sautéed inside of that pot that really matters the very most.
While the meal may not have turned out perfect, the pot may have been old and scratched - a team of people still showed up to dine and to have some fun together. As they all sat inside of The Townhouses. Thinking about the upcoming run, and maybe even discussing the race taking place the following morning. But probably, and mostly, just chatting about that week’s episode of Dawson’s Creek. Or maybe The Princess Bride was being watched yet again.
And maybe while chatting over prime-time television, somebody was thinking of a pot… A pot made of copper, shiny and new; a large beast of a pot - taking up a lot of space inside the small kitchen of a very small apartment. And maybe while contemplating that shiny pot, the chef was dreaming of all the pasta-bilities yet to come. ~
Bean’s Red Sauce Recipe
Do you use any copper pots in your kitchen? I would absolutely love to know. Drop me a comment down below:
Also, y’all can check out these other delicious and comforting recipes from Bean’s Kitchen, here:
10) Bean’s Soulful Southern Chili
38) The Year Of The Sweater ~ Bean’s Minestrone Soup Recipe
43) Bean’s Bold Beef Stew Recipe ~
47) Bean’s Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnut Recipe ~ A Super Food For A Super Sunday
And, if you want to find out more about how I lost a whole lotta weight - completely naturally, and while utilizing the above recipes - plus, tips on maintaining weight loss, you can check out some stuff on all that right here:
7) My ‘Before & After’ ~~ How A Single Act Of Kindness, Lime Bubly, And MyFitnessPal Helped Me Lose 77 Pounds In One Year
17) Fall Flavors ~ Six Simple Steps I’m Taking This Fall To Maintain My Massive Weight Loss
21) Cinotti’s ~ And Why Life Is Too Short To Not Eat Donuts
37) New Year/New 007 ~ Here’s 20 Tips That Will Have You Seeing 20/20 In 2020 ~
There was once a little doggy named Minnie
And she was named after a Mouse
She lived very high and mighty
Yes she was The Queen of her house
Minnie The Mouse went on lots of adventures
Traveling very near and quite far
And while her life at home was filled with great leisure
She also spent lots of fun time in the car
She traveled to all of the farthest reaches
Yes that car took her to very beautiful beaches
That car took her to many little parks
Where she went on lots of lovely special walks
The window rolled down and she felt a lovely breeze
She visited lots of places and got to eat very special treats
Her shiny fur was the pure color of the best pumpkin pie
And she was the special apple of a certain little one’s eye
And Minnie was shaped just like a perfect little burrito
Because she really loved her tasty puppachinos
Plus cookies and cupcakes, pies, pizza, or even crumbs
No food was not too tempering for her to succumb
Because she would eat anything inside of the house
Yes this was the luxurious life of Queen Minnie The Mouse
She even traveled far up Up UP to the North Pole
Just to make sure she wasn’t given a piece of coal
She met the very man himself Mr. Santa Claus
And sat upon his lap with her four delicate little paws
She told him she was being such a very good little Doggy
And could he please bring her a squeaky little Dolly
Yes, Minnie’s travels let her to feel the wind in her fur
All the while her Magical Life with us went by in a blur
And her favorite ride of all was inside the stroller
Sitting side by side with her favorite little toddler
That little boy and her were quite inseparable
Yes it all was most undeniable
Minnie’s days were also spent with her little matching Bullseye
And we cannot forget both tiny Pua and tiny Hei Hei
And last but not least we must remember her little Fish
Then one day they All helped her make her Birthday Wish
She wished for happiness till the end of days
And mostly never ending time to play
To sleep and eat and dream and run
And simply for that LIFE of pure fun
Minnie got her special Birthday Wish come true
And she now lives on in our hearts, while eating lots of good food too. ~
~ This poem is dedicated to:
The life and many adventures of Minnie The Dachshund Mouse;
All those who will miss her precious presence in this world;
And to all those who miss their own furry creatures every single day. ~~
Check out @beansfldreams on Instagram for all my Floridian Dreams and latest artwork.
If you like my stories, here are some more for ya:
36) The End Of A Decade & My New Year’s Wish To You
34) Merry Christmas ~ And How To Buy For That Person On Your List Who Saved Your LIfe ~
28) The Scent Of Christmas In The Air
26) Deck The Chairs ~ BE THAT CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THIS OUR VERY OWN AND SHAREABLE WORLD
23) Faith ~ And Life Lessons Learned Living With Wild & Untamable Hair
21) Cinottis ~ And Why Life Is Too Short To Not Eat Donuts
If you liked this story, please let me know. Do you have a special little furry creature in your life? I’d love to know. Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below:
It’s winter y’all. And while it’s still pretty darn warm here in Florida at the moment, I’ve become so acclimated to the intense and fire-breathing dragon which is our summer heat, that right now it might as well be winter in Chicago. Any drop on the thermometer, even a pinch, and I’m absolutely freezing!
No joke. Like, for real.
And, I never enjoyed wearing sweaters. One year, many Christmases ago now, and after I was married, I received all sweaters for Christmas. All sweaters, and nothing more. Everybody who gave me a gift that holiday gave me a sweater. By the end of the evening on Christmas Day, I was literally drowning in sweaters sitting upon my lap.
I didn’t even ask for sweaters.
But sweaters I did get.
And to make matters even worse, my husband received all sweaters as well.
My mother-in-law correctly deemed it... ‘The Year Of The Sweater’ … and she really was absolutely right.
It remains to this day, one of the funniest things she ever told me, and it was all just so very true.
I’m not sure if anyone else on Earth has ever received as many sweaters for gifts as my husband and I both did that holiday a long time ago.
And for years afterward, I could not even look at a sweater without thinking of The Year Of The Sweater. I basically hated and despised sweaters since that infamous day of unwrapping all that extremely itchy wool I was then surrounded by and being suffocated from.
I mean, it could be well below zero outside, and I could be driving in a car with the windows rolled down, and I still would not succumb to the temptation of a nice and beautiful looking sweater that happened to be sitting next to me on the car seat. If it was a sweater, I was NOT wearing it.
Fast forward to today.
Living in Florida.
It’s beautiful. All year round. No joke. It’s perfection. I feel like I’m living in a paradise, or Heaven, or some combination thereof. I'm so used to the perfect weather that when the temperature takes a dip, I wear more layers than I’ve worn in my entire life, combined.
I could very easily be teleported to the Arctic tundra, and Santa Claus would hire me on the spot to work for him in his outdoor garden, simply because he wouldn’t need to buy me the standard uniform that would need to be worn in the elements. I’d already be wearing it. I’m ready for the cold.
So, yes, finally, at long last, the sweater has come back into my life. And it sits there and laughs at me with every breath I take.
It could be 69 degrees out here in Jax Beach, and I’m frozen solid.
And this winter is the worst yet - in terms of clothing. I’m in my third year living in The Sunshine State, and I was so desperate when the temperature took a slight dip that I had to go out and buy a big winter down puffy coat to get through the coldest days and nights.
And now, I’ve resorted to complete and total desperation while at home.
I currently take perfectly clean and dry sweaters, put them into the dryer, simply to get them feeling nice and toasty - steamy ... hot.
I RUN to the dryer the instant it buzzes me, and I wisk open the door of the magical appliance. I grab for the hot sweater, and hurl it around me. And then, what the heck, I might even throw on another layer. Then, finally, I can get back to work in my art studio, and I can actually concentrate. I’m from Illinois - and I’m now in Florida sitting under layers of blankets and sweaters with palm trees and perfect blue skies outside my window - I’m absolutely pathetic.
So naturally, while wearing sweaters, long pants and slippers, what does one eat when it’s a cold and frigid 70 degrees outside?
Soup. Of course. Minestrone Soup.
Today, I’m very happy to share with you my minestrone recipe that I have been making for years and years. It’s probably one of my favorite recipes that my husband and I both make together. It’s reliable, it’s consistent and tastes the same every time, it’s easy, and it’s very healthy.
I would say this recipe is a combination of my mother’s minestrone recipe, the internet’s soup, and our soup - rolling all those ideas into one perfect pot. We’ve tweaked it many times, and the recipe below is the one that is deemed perfection by my taste buds. So, we finally never waiver from this, our very perfect Minestrone Soup.
Also, I’ve done the calculations on MyFitnessPal, and at only 239 calories making 8 servings, it's not even heavy on the calories. And did I mention that it’s very healthy?
When we lived in Illinois, we tended to make this soup more so only in the winter months, as we tended to grill out every chance we’d get throughout the entire summer period.
But it IS winter in Florida, y’all.
So, as I freeze under fleece blankets and heavy sweaters, we desperately needed a hot soup to eat. We proceeded with the task, and dug out our biggest pot on New Year’s Day. Sometimes we make a big pot of chili on New Year’s, but this year, I needed soup. It called to me as much as I needed the warmth of a sweater straight from the dryer.
And I tend to think the best thing about this recipe is the week full of leftovers it will leave you with. (In our two person and one furry creature household, we have the first main dinner, and then about three nights of leftovers, both eating one bowl per night).
And I always recommend making a pot of soup on a Sunday. It’s the best day of the week for soup. On Sunday’s while you tend to your chores around the house, you can enjoy the scent of the long, slow simmer on the stovetop. But better than that, you have leftovers for the work-week ahead of you. So Sunday it is for us. Or New Year’s Day.
So this year, cold as we were, we enjoyed a nice, leisurely New Year’s holiday at home. Our little sous-chef helped us out in the kitchen…. It’s really important and vital to the entire kitchen operation that you hire such a chef. Your soup might not turn out correctly without one on staff.
And as our soup simmered long, and slow, and low atop the stove, we went through the annual routine of packing up and storing away all our holiday decor for the season.
I’m a huge fan of leaving everything up through the new year holiday if we can help it. So barring any trips or scheduling issues that would prevent us, we always take down the tree and pack everything up for the season on New Year’s Day.
We used to be completely dependent on the weather in Chicago as to when all our outdoor decor came down. If given a window of ‘nice’ weather, we had to go outside and take everything in before the world froze up again. Otherwise, we could be so unlucky as to potentially have everything sit out there until March or some other crazy date. So now I absolutely love that living here in the South the weather is not a factor to anything in terms of my household schedule.
I also took every item out of my plastic storage bins, and gave each bin a deep clean. By the time I was done with the entire process, my storage bins were clean enough to slap a pizza on top and eat right off of the plastic if one wanted. Clean AND organized, on New Year’s Day. Such a bonus.
We also purged a few older items, donating them to charity. Out with the old, in with the new. I try not to let clutter pile up until it’s unmanageable.
Overall, we had a very relaxing and productive New Year’s holiday. The soup made the day though. And as we sat down to dinner that holiday evening, watching Blue Bloods Season Eight on DVD, I was sitting under layers of blankets to keep warm during our Florida winter. And as I watched NYPD PC Frank Reagan sit at the head of his dining room table during one of the infamous Reagan family Sunday dinner scenes, surrounded by all of his kids and grandkids, including my favorite television character of all time, Danny Reagan, I couldn’t help but notice that Frank tends to almost always wear the same straw colored, button-down, cable-knit sweater to family dinner each Sunday. ~
Bean’s Minestrone Soup Recipe
For more of Bean’s recipes - click below:
~ Bean’s Soulful Southern Chili ~
12/23/2019 0 Comments
During the opening scene of the holiday film classic, White Christmas, Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) saves Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby’s) life. It’s World War II. Bombs flying overhead. Rubble and lots of blown up, destroyed buildings half-standing all around. Davis pulls Wallace out of the path of a swaying and then falling, crumbling, and collapsing red brick building wall. He saves Wallace’s life - and injures his own arm in the process.
While in the hospital tent recovering, Wallace goes to visit Davis. To check on him. To thank him. For saving his life.
“It was a life worth saving,” Davis proudly proclaims. And simple, matter-of-fact like. He might as well of said,
“No big deal.”
“I do that sorta thing all the time!”
You see, Davis lived a happy, silly, and very innocent existence. Cheerful all the time, even on the lowest of days, he would find the bright spot, he would always be the jokester. Any scene he was in, it was a scene filled with joy and laughs.
Wallace had always been much more serious. Even in show business, the entertainment business, he was always focused on the Business side of any Show. Wallace and Davis became business partners after the War ended. Wallace - watching the finances - Davis following the dream.
Despite all cost. Money didn’t matter. He had a vision. And he was set to do it.
To convince Wallace to go along with any of his pricey and elaborate schemes, Davis simply pointed to that arm of his. A constant reminder to Wallace that he had saved Wallace’s life…
After all, it was a life worth saving.
Those constant and nagging reminders given by Davis are imperative scenes in the films plot. From that point forward of Davis saving Wallace’s life, every time Davis needed or wanted anything… anything at all, he just points to that arm of his.
So, ever and always hounded by Davis, Wallace repeatedly complied. Following Davis’s every whim, every desire, every dream. Even running to catch a train, and take a long, dreamy, and leisurely and quite lovely ride on the rails up north to Vermont. A trip he originally didn’t want to go on… and sleep in a drafty old club car - with no nice, warm bed? Wallace owed Davis. Big time.
He’d do anything to appease Davis. After all, how do you repay someone who saved your life?
It’s constant, right? For the rest of your life?
There is no amount that can suffice such a reciprocal payment for services rendered.
Wallace understood this. He knew no amount of money could repay Davis for the life he saved under the falling red brick building back during the War.
How much does it cost to save a life? How much would a person pay to be saved? How much does Wallace owe Davis for his act of selflessness and heroism? It was a near-impossible equation to solve. Unless, maybe, getting some insurance adjusters and lawyers, or mediators or other adjudicators, and judges and juries involved to finally solve the problem of Davis constantly pointing to his arm???
No, Wallace would never do that… that would cost more MONEY! Just keep on appeasing him. Just keep on humoring Davis… for the rest of his life. It was worth it. He was ALIVE after all.
In the end, they remain forever friends... And forever grateful of their drastically changed lives and all they had gone through together. War, and horror, death and destruction - to brand new post-war lives, the entertainment business, and finding the loves of their lives, together.
Their happily ever afters.
So, the question remains today in lots of people’s lives… How do you repay the person who saved you? If your life was utterly and literally saved by someone else, how can you possibly repay them? Is there is price tag on that action?
AND FURTHER - when the holidays come around each year, how do you give a gift...what do you buy… for that person on your list who saved your life?
The answer is simple.
I’ve watched White Christmas an infinite number of times. I have it memorized. I can taste the frothy and magical and very appealing drinks in the dining car scene onboard that infamous train ride up to Vermont... “Snow… Snow… Snow... Snow!” I can direct the remake if you’d like me to. I’m an expert.
But, I always used to question Bing Crosby’s character in the film. Wallace never told Davis to SHUT UP, to STOP WITH THIS LIFE SAVING BUSINESS! He never gave in or gave up on him. He never yelled - Stop pointing to your arm! Stop reminding me you saved my life! Stop bothering me!
Well, wait… maybe he did.
“Sometimes I wish the wall had fallen on me…” Wallace complains to Davis.
Awhhhh moans Davis, you don’t mean that!
Maybe Wallace did tell Davis to schedadle. Go away. But in an innocent manner. He never really meant it. That’s why they remained life-long friends. They helped each other through a dark time. That never goes away. Even as life changes in the future. He will be forever grateful that Davis saved his life.
You CANNOT put a price on a life. All life is precious. A life saved cannot be repaid. There is no amount. No check you can write. No card all-encompassing.
When stuffing the envelopes for your holiday cards and you get to the person who saved your life… do you add some extra glitter in their card? After all, they need something extra from everyone else, right?
Sure, every day, in trials and settlements, financial figures are calculated to affix and satisfy lawsuits etc. Insurance companies and attorneys calculate cost-of-life and benefits, etc. etc. etc. Money owed someone over the course of a lifetime - a calculated financial equivalent to compute what a life is worth with a dollar sign. But the money does not make a person whole. And life is not about the money. Which really explains why there is no suitable Christmas gift to give to the person who saved your life.
There is only one way to repay the person who saved you. One Christmas gift you can give them. It is by living your life. A life of gratefulness. Of service. Of thanks and gratitude. Of giving and generosity. Living the amazing and completely priceless life you were given - by that person who saved you...
By living your very best life - each and every day. Only someone who has been saved and pulled from the darkness can potentially even understand this. It just doesn’t happen all the time. That’s why there isn’t a section in the Hallmark card aisle devoted to it. We have - Merry Christmas to Mom & Dad, Happy Holiday’s To My Co-Worker, Dear Grandma, To My Dog Groomer - at Christmas… But where’s the card for - At Christmas… For Saving My LIfe??? I need that card. To give to someone I owe. But it doesn’t exist.
And that’s ok.
The person who saved you understands as much. They just want you to live your life. They don’t want a big thank you.
I know this.
I know this because my life was saved.
Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida saved my life. Both literally and figuratively... Physically and mentally. Three years ago. This will be my third Christmas since my life changed forever.
How can I possibly repay them for what they did for me?
I volunteered at the hospital for a years time. I donate. Etc. Etc. Etc. None of it adds up to how much they helped me. I could hand them the moon - because that’s what I want to do. I owe them everything. I cannot possibly repay them though.
My first holiday season post-treatment at the Clinic, I wanted to do something for them to thank them. Nothing matched my gratefulness. I wracked my brain. There was no money. There was no Hallmark card?!....
I’ve got it!
I’ll bake cookies!
Frosted Christmas Sugar Cookies - to be exact.
So during the holidays of 2017, my husband and I spent an entire weekend in the kitchen. Baking. It was wonderful. After many years of marriage, it was our first time really taking some quality time together to simply do some solid and legitimate baking. And our first real slow-down during any Christmas, ever.
And now, three years later, it is tradition. One weekend a holiday season, we stop everything. We don’t go see any Zoo Lights that weekend, we don’t go see the St. Augustine Nights of Lights that weekend, no Deck The Chairs, no Luminaria, no Christmas Pop-Up Bar, no Beaches Town Center Christmas Tree and lights, and no gingerbread house at One Ocean, we don’t shop at Rockaway Gardens or buy any Christmas greenery that weekend… we simply bake.
I light festive and dreamy scented candles. We turn on Christmas movies in the background. Our apartment becomes a pine and fir and balsam and sugar and dough scented Heaven on Earth. And we bake.
And frost… of course.
By Monday, the day of my follow-up care each December, I go off to Mayo, with a box of sugary and holiday goodness in hand. I check in to my appointment, and drop the box off at the Pain Rehab Clinic. And then go on my way, to meet with everyone else who comes to these sessions, everyone else who has had their lives changed forever by the Pain Rehabilitation Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.
We meet. We attend our sessions. We listen. We learn. We talk. We snack. We dine. We say goodbye. We go on with our lives afterward.
Another two months go by.
We all meet every other month. Coming from places near and far. Driving, flying, and yes, by train ride also. In the interim, we all keep in touch via a private Facebook Group for “Graduates” of the amazing program. We are not merely just patients who have been discharged. We are graduates of a program designed to give us life again.
And we have access to the benefits of the Rehab Clinic for the rest of our lives afterward.
After two months, we do it all again...
But it’s that December session, during the holidays, when I always bring the cookies.
By the end of all the baking and frosting during that wonderful weekend, I have a delicious box of cookies, all wrapped up and ready to go. I try to ‘up my game’ every year. Maybe better-shapes. Maybe better overall presentation. This year, we tried to master the difference between border frosting and flood frosting. I certainly did not “master” it by any means, but it was a great start, and hopefully my cookies will improve even more next year. A great article about border frosting and flood frosting can be found here - one that even a lazy baker can follow.
When I drop off my cookies, I’m proud of myself for just a small milli-second. For “stopping my life” for 48 hours. For dropping everything. To give something to someone else. Something so very simple. But something to show and express my gratefulness. Gratitude goes a very long way. But cookies go even longer.
This post is utterly and sincerely dedicated to all of the staff at the Mayo Pain Rehab Clinic. The doctors. The nurses. The occupational therapists. The physical therapists. Nutritionists. Pain Psychologists. Any and all other staff. The invisible and unnamed hard workers. The ones who stuff envelopes reminding us of our appointments. The awesome woman who always answers the phone. The people who keep all the amazing facilities clean and tidy and safe so that patients and doctors and nurses and other staff can do the life-saving work they need to do to get back out and into the world. The ones who are currently working very hard on building construction to renovate and add to the facility to make room for a whole additional team of patients, who will be able to partake in the program in the near future. Everyone. Thank you.
There are no words.
There is no amount of money.
There is no Hallmark card I can buy.
I can never repay you.
I can bring you cookies. But I can never repay you.
You saved my life.
You brought me back to life.
I know I helped just a little bit. And God did too. And I do give God all the credit here.
But right now, this one’s for you. YOU deserve A LOT of the credit.
I do the hard work it takes each and every day to continue to survive after my discharge and graduation. I know that.
But y’all work so hard too. You deserve everything. You deserve the moon.
You pulled me out from the bombs flying by overheard. You dragged me away from the heavy red brick wall collapsing on top of me. You lifted me out of the rubble and mess. You saved me from war and death and all the destruction it brings with it. All your hard work. All the efforts. Oh, the broken arms all the Phil Davis’s have endured to help save us patients. It can never be repaid. I can never thank you enough.
But you know what? I think you know that.
I think you know… that graduates living our very best lives, and doing our very best work to live a healthy, productive, generous and giving life ourselves, is our way of repaying you… each and every day. And I try to do just that.
It’s a lifetime of work.
Yes, it is for the rest of my life.
As one of the most amazing humans the world has ever known always says and reminds us... this is a lifetime commitment. There is no end date. This lifestyle is a commitment we make with ourselves until we draw our very last breath upon this Earth.
I completely understand what he means in every sense of those words.
So thank you. Thank you for those words. Thank you for your help. Thank you for saving me. But it was a life worth saving. I try my best. I thank you forever. But my life and my life’s work ahead of me is my real thank you to you. I cannot repay you with money. I cannot even explain it in these words here and now.
You know that...
So Sugar Cookies will have to do in the interim.
Thank you Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.
God Bless the Pain Rehabilitation Center and staff.
This is my Christmas gift to you.
And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my very dear readers and subscribers. ~
This personal story is my Christmas gift to you (or someone you know) who can benefit from it in any way. If you, or someone you know, is in pain. If you are struggling. If you feel hopeless. If you are in chronic pain. If you are suffering severe depression. There is always light. There is always hope. I am not a doctor. I cannot save you. My hope with this blog is for you to use me simply as one example. To read about others, and their stories. Learn from them. Seek help. In this article is the physical facility I personally recommend. While everybody's experience will be different and unique to them, I am sharing my experience for others to benefit in any way. In my story, I am specifically referencing the Jacksonville, Florida branch of Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic has three branches - they are located in Rochester, MN, Jacksonville, FL, and Phoenix, AZ. In my own personal experience and my own personal opinion and not referring to anyone else’s, they are very different from one another. This article is referring specifically to the Jacksonville, Florida location. Their main phone number is 904.953.2000. Use my story and my example as a push to get you or that someone you know the help they need. YOU are your own best advocate. No one else will ever be able to advocate for you - better than you, yourself, and YOU. Don’t wait for someone else to come along and save you… save yourself… just maybe by letting someone else save you. But anywhere you are, there is help. Get out there… it’s YOUR JOB to get out there... and FIND IT.*
While I both love and live in Jacksonville Beach, FL, there’s only one other town around I love just as very much…well, two towns actually - it’s where Atlantic Boulevard meets the ocean - it’s Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach… its Beaches Town Center.
Beaches Town Center is all-encompassing of the downtown areas of both Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach. The two downtowns meet together for one, central, and grand downtown area on the Beaches - with Atlantic Beach to the north, and Neptune Beach to the south - and Atlantic Boulevard as the border line. It is there that the two towns touch and meet, becoming one. If you weren’t familiar with the area, you wouldn’t really even know that they are two separate towns. They really blend well aesthetically and flow and function nicely as one downton. And while the two towns share this single and lovely downtown, they share a whole lot more as well… including Christmas!
Beaches Town Center comes together for one official Christmas tree area at the center of town, and just steps off the beach. Where Atlantic Boulevard ends and the ocean begins. At the roundabout. The trees - including evergreen, and palm, of course - are lit up beautifully. Signature candy cane stripes going up the trunks of the palms, with green tip lit leaves. And this year they added another evergreen to the display, having two total, one on each side of the palms. With a large red seating area, positioned perfectly for Santa Claus to sit, there is never a dull moment in the round-a-bout. With children and families both coming up to get their photo taken sitting in the enormous chair. Sometimes even a line of people waiting.
And with the palm trees lit all up and down the sidewalks on 1st Street and beyond, in a rainbow of holiday colors, the setting is a beautiful, beachy holiday, instantly.
If you find yourself in town, and checking out all things holiday while you’re here, there’s a few other not to be missed seasonal and very festive events which I highly recommend. Check out the St. Augustine Nights of Lights if you have time for a short drive. And be sure to visit Deck The Chairs, just one town south, in my very own Jax Beach. Deck The Chairs is free, it’s walk-through, and open to the public nightly through the end of the month. And only a couple miles south of Beaches Town Center, it’s a quick hop on over if you are out exploring all the lights and all the beautiful sights around Jacksonville.
Our first Christmas living in Florida, back in 2017, we were browsing around Beaches Town Center. It was wonderful - we knew it would become an instant new tradition added to our list of holiday festivities. And while strolling through town that first Floridian holiday, we came upon One Ocean at the center of town, and decided we needed to check it out.
We walked into their grand lobby, for the first time. Fountain in the center, just inside the door. Well, the inside is just gorgeous. And it turns out that every year, for Christmas and the entire holiday season, they put a large gingerbread house on display just off to the side in the lobby area. Naturally stumbling onto this find was so exciting. And it’s those finds, that I didn’t know about in advance of a visit somewhere, completely unplanned, and spur-of-the-moment, that are sometimes the very best moments. And we’ve been back every year.
I’ve included photos of this year’s 2019 gingerbread house. And let me tell you, that lobby smelled of gingerbread - and smelled of heaven. It was fabulous to see, and to breathe in. It’s a quick stop in to check out, and puts one in the holiday spirit right away. The baked house is different every year, and all of it - the sign - the house itself, and all the details presented, reminded me immediately of my many travels to Walt Disney World at Christmastime and doing some Resort Hopping...checking out all the resort lobby gingerbread houses - each themed to that specific Disney resort. So I definitely recommend stopping in One Ocean on your Beaches Town Center holiday adventure. They’ve got a bar and restaurant on site too - it’s on the pricey side so we haven’t been there to eat just yet, but we have been to the lounge a few times and it’s just lovely. The ocean views are priceless.
And a visit to Beaches Town Center is never, ever complete without a visit to Southern Grounds Coffee Shop. I love coffee almost as much as life itself. So we strolled on down to Southern Grounds to get a hot drink on a cool Florida evening. but to our surprise it was the one night ever that I’ve come across them closed. Usually open until 9pm, we went on a Monday night, and there was a sign on the door apologizing for the closure. They were out celebrating for the staff holiday party. No, I’m not complaining… the fact that we were so very sad that they were closed is only a compliment to them - as their shop simply rocks. So no Southern Grounds for us that particular evening, but soooo very glad for their employees that they had a night out away from work to celebrate.
Beaches Town Center knows how to throw a Beachy Christmas… On a Monday night, or any night of the week. I’d highly recommend stopping by for a visit, short or long. Coffee or no coffee. It’s a wonderful sight, with a lot of wonderful lights. ~
*[Part of: Bean’s Baking Series]
Alright… It’s that time of year my dear friends! Time to get your baking on!
We spent this past lovely and very festive weekend baking away in our tiny little and very basic kitchen. It was fabulous! No stores, no shopping, no errands… well, yes, we did run a couple errands. But, in my dreams, we didn’t.
We just baked and frosted. Sugar cookies! How can the holiday season come and go without homemade cookies being brought to life in your oven? It can’t.
Here’s what we did. It’s simple. It just requires a bit of patience. After all, nothing sweet and precious can be rushed into existence. And no mixer needed. Made all by hand. With love…
And, as a bonus for those watching their calories, making the dough by hand and not using a stand mixer burns lots and lots of calories. As the dough slowly thickens, you have to work harder and harder to perfect the dough’s consistency. We just won’t talk about how many calories are in the cookies themselves… I heard Santa doesn’t mind, so we won’t either.
We allowed the full weekend to bake and frost, making no other commitments outside the home. No Deck The Chairs, no Christmas tree, wreath, or holly shopping, and no Nights of Lights. No to anything and everything - besides food and drink. We’ve done this every year since 2017, and this third year has really solidified it as a nice and peaceful little tradition during the holiday season.
We schedule the baking for a few weeks after the season has officially started and all the holiday activities are well underway, but before the actual holiday. It’s become a nice way to decompress, and stop everything for even just a little bit of time, during a very busy time. By stopping, we are focusing on ourselves, on family. On our baby Sheltie, who did an excellent job keeping the floor clean. On moments. And not rushing during those moments.
So we made the dough and baked all the 75 cookies on Saturday. And we spent many hours frosting and sprinkling on Sunday. All of this can definitely be done in one day, though, if you need or want. You will just need to make sure you allow a few hours to let the dough cool in the fridge once mixed though, as I mention in the instructions, or it will throw a fit and be too sticky and messy to work with. Give the dough the nap it needs before waking it up to go play!
So, get to that grocery store.
Buy your ingredients.
Dust off your copy of White Christmas on DVD. Or put some tunes on the iPad.
Note: We found two piping tubes at the local Dollar Tree. They obviously were not very high quality, and when I tried to squeeze the frosting through it ripped fairly quickly. But it did its job for a bit then we moved onto the second tube we had purchased just in case. Next year I’m thinking of getting actual squeeze bottles from Michaels or Hobby Lobby that are sold in their baking aisle - just a few more dollars a piece but probably well worth it for the hassle and mess of the squeeze bag.
Make one bowl each of white (no coloring added) frosting, green frosting, red frosting, and blue frosting by putting lots of powdered sugar in each bowl and slowly adding in a bit of water, and drops of food coloring, at a time.
To make the border frosting you can keep the white frosting a thicker, gel-like consistency - just add liquid very slowly and in tiny bits at a time. Aim for a thicker frosting and stop adding water once you like the consistency, or if it becomes to runny just add more powdered sugar. You can then spoon this frosting into the piping bag and can shape all the borders of your cookies with it. One of the goals of the border is to prevent the frosting from rolling off the edge, which gives the frosted cookie a neat and clean looking appearance. Obviously, mine didn’t meet that goal - I just know I need more practice. I did have the right consistency for the most part. And you can get as creative as you want with the border by adding details, such as eyes onto snowmen, or hats, or clothes, or garland on a tree, stripes on a candy cane, etc.
To make the flood frosting the colors can be just a tad more liquidy by just adding a tiny bit more water to the consistency in the bowl. The colored bowls of frosting will be used to fill in the middle of your bordered cookie tops - to flood all the gaps made with the border.
Make separate bowls of frosting per colors you choose
-Makes approximately 75 cookies (depending on the size of the cookie cutters you use.
Share & Enjoy!
We had sooo much fun doing this activity! Our cookies turned out pretty messy, but it was our first time using piping bags, and I hope to improve on that skill next year.
During this busy and fun and exciting time of year, stop what you’re doing for one weekend. Commit to nothing outside the home. Say no to all events and ticketed functions. Turn on some holiday tunes, or a holiday classic on the tv, light the yule log, and get baking… It’s good for the soul. And remember, looks don’t matter… it’s what’s on the inside that counts. ~
This December marks my third holiday season living in the South. And while I’ve already enjoyed seemingly countless new, exciting, and very different holiday traditions each winter here, there’s always something else I want to try, or add to my must-do list. Many of these events and outings are completely unique to Florida, Florida’s history, and, unlike Chicago - with the fact that bodies of water are not frozen solid, or on their way to be, down here in December - it means a whole lot of those holiday traditions involve the water in some way or manner.
St. Augustine’s 26th Annual Nights of Lights is one such event that I’ve incorporated into my holiday traditions here on the First Coast. And this year I planned my outing to be centered entirely around the coastal and inlet waters of Vilano Beach, Matanzas River, Anastasia Island, and the very historic city of St. Augustine itself.
I’ve seen the St. Augustine Lights each year here thus far. But mostly I’ve gazed at the lights just quickly touring or driving through, so this year I wanted to do things a little bit different.
Red Boat Water Tours - docked at the Vilano Beach Pier - hosts a nightly boat tour of the coastal waters which reflect the lights surrounding all the beauty in the city.
We booked our boat ride months in advance. The tour is so very popular it sells out way ahead of time for each evening they take on customers during the entire holiday season.
We had been on this exact boat tour during the day time with my family when they were in town for a visit about a year and a half ago now. We witnessed lots of dolphins swimming about during that ride, as we listened to the captain tell us many stories about the great history of St. Augustine. So I was pretty excited about gaining a different perspective of the city this year, at night, once the waters were completely dark, and with the lighthouse acting as a true beacon surrounding our entire ride, and all the magnificence of the lights display bordering the entire shore line.
Tours start at $40.00 per person, plus fees, and our original total came to over $90.00. However, since we had been customers in the past, they had offered us a repeat rider discount specifically for the Nights of Lights Tour, with fairly significant savings - it nearly halved our total cost. This repeat customer deal was better than any other sales/codes/online deals offered.
Honestly, the large discount is the only reason I booked the tour. I personally think we would never have paid this much to go back on the same boat we had already been on - as I tend to try different things each year, especially those that cost significant money. While tending to keep the traditions that cost next to nothing or are completely free. Sugar cookies, anyone?
I also planned for us to have dinner at Beaches at Vilano in advance of the tour. It makes sense to me to try a restaurant we’ve never been especially when we’re right there in the vicinity.
Our ride started at 7:15pm going through 8:30. Red Boat asks in the fine print for us to arrive about 15-20 minutes ahead of time. The restaurant is just opposite the pier and basically shares the same parking. So I planned our dinner for 5:30. That gave us enough time to work a full day, drive down, eat a leisurely meal, including time for a quick dessert, then head on over to our awaiting horse-drawn open sleigh upon the warm waters.
Dinner was just fine. I say that meaning there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, while at the same time it wasn’t the best meal of my life. It ended up being roughly half the cost as our anniversary meal at The Reef, which is located just down the street a bit… so the lesser cost was fabulous. And despite it not being the absolute best, I do recommend stopping in Beaches if you get a chance.
The atmosphere and the views are worth it alone. You will be transported instantly into vacation mode there - whether you’re on vacation, or not. And there are no complaints here about vacation mode.
At 5:30pm on a Tuesday, in December, they were quite busy. They had some very large parties already seated, mostly corporate and holiday parties going on, but each table was filled. They were busy enough that we were lucky to get seated right away, have our meal, with just enough time remaining for getting out to our boat tour immediately after. We had tried for reservations - but they do not accept. Make sure to allot for enough time if you are planning the same holiday outing.
I ordered a plain iced tea, skipped the soup, salads and appetizers, and had the flat iron steak with a side of broccoli - extra broccoli - skip the plantains, for my main course.
This is how I stay healthy or even somewhat healthy while dining out. I researched the menu in advance online. I logged into MyFitnessPal in the morning to plot out my calories for the day. And I knew exactly what I was ordering for dinner. After massive weight loss, I’m not about to go back to where I was. While I receive lots of questions asking me how I maintain the loss...it's a daily plan just like it was during the loss. Even more so afterward, I’d say, than during, sometimes.
Healthy decisions have to be part of the new and changed lifestyle. Wherever I am. Whatever options are available to me. And most especially when coming face to face with the almighty and highly coveted FRENCH FRY.
No, I never met a potato I didn’t like.
Don’t get me wrong, I still eat burgers and fries, just infrequently. The meal I selected for this outing is loaded with nutrients from the broccoli and is heavy on the protein from the steak. And nothing fried.
The protein helps the tummy feel full, and takes longer to digest, upping the metabolism. The harder the body has to work to process the food, the more calories it burns in the process. That’s why protein is a major perk to weight loss. And, the broccoli’s many and countless benefits will basically go without saying for right now and the purposes of this post, as the perks of eating it should be self-explanatory for most. Hence, the large plate of broccoli.
My only critique of this dish, at this restaurant, is that I would recommend the steak and broccoli be served on separate plates. The juices/sauces/butters/etc. from both dishes were already mixed together by the time my plate was served to me, and it didn’t take long for the entire dish to taste all the same. And when everything tastes the same, it’s becomes increasingly less appealing. Leading to less enjoyment from me, leading to my hubby’s meal becoming more and more appealing and quite tempting to me by the second.
Here is the hubby’s meal.
He ordered the burger with fries, and a side of grilled shrimp. He loved the shrimp, and everything else was exceptional. His margarita was just right.
We ordered the volcano cake with vanilla ice cream, berries, and topped with a berry sauce to split for dessert. This allowed us to still have a treat for the night, a special treat since we were out, but splitting saved on calories immensely as well as cost.
We received our volcano cake - minus the volcano. Sad face.
My husband didn’t know what a volcano cake was, so I was excited to split it open to show how the chocolate should pour out like lava, but, sadly, that did not happen. It was very, very dry. But while the cake was not as it should have been - it was still edible - it was C H O C O L A T E…. after all. No problem there - not a drop of it left by the end of the meal - we had the plate clean for them and ready to pop in the dishwasher, no pre-rinse needed.
After our dinner at Beaches was complete, we walked right on out to the very lonely looking pier.
It was dark. And desolate.
I instantly thought we had the wrong day.
I was just about to check my phone for information. But alas, we kept walking down toward the dock, and I could see red lights.Our Rudolph.
Our boat was there. Our Red Boat. It was just near empty and no one else was around - within an area that us usually fairly populated - any time of day.
Apparently, right before our arrival there was a miscommunication between tour boat companies and all the riders standing out on the dock waiting to board their respective boats.
Another tour company out of the same dock had some problems with their boat, sent everyone away, and when those people left, nearly all of the customers for our Red Boat left as well. So we were riding on a sold-out boat ride, and had most of the boat to ourselves. If you book this outing, don’t be afraid to call to verify if something’s up upon your arrival. And know there are many boating companies out in the area touring customers around. If one sends people away, confirm it’s your ride before leaving.
It was a lovely ride. A chilly ride. A dark ride.
With the sun long ago set, we were riding past all the low and tidal areas in the dark, with the lighthouse as a breathtaking backdrop in the black skies. Our boat captain told us some stories along the way. We learned of the ancient history surrounding Nights of Lights - something I had never heard before.
I knew there were many reasons floating around online of how the Lights came to be an annual tradition within the town 26 years ago. And that the story of the light in the window tradition had potentially dated back to ancient times. But I knew no real specifics.
Our boat captain told us his version… He said it all started with Jesus.
Jesus. As a refugee baby. No room at the Inn. In need of safe passage. Safe housing for the night. When the Spanish settled here on the historic First Coast hundreds of years ago, they put lights in their windows at night during the holiday season. To act as a beacon.
A beacon for weary travelers.
A light to welcome Jesus.
Jesus has room at their Inns.
A beacon of hope to the world.
Of all the stories I heard about the Lights, and why they exist, and why people still put candles in their windows to this day, I like the Jesus version. Baby Jesus… sleeping in the hay.
I’ll choose Jesus.
But regardless of why lights are put in the window displays, and which version and which stories are true, and which are legend in town… as the town itself has countless legends - the lights themselves are absolutely fabulous. You can choose which story you like. Which fits your reason as to why you light your way and what you choose to light your way with.
Just always choose the light - over the darkness - and you’ll be good to go.
They offered us heavy wool blankets onboard. They came in handy. We absolutely froze. I wore a turtleneck, the only long pair of pants I own, and one of the only closed-toe shoes I own, my new winter puffy down coat, plus ear muffs, gloves, hood, and brought two blankets of our own, as they served us hot chocolate. It was 53 degrees outside.
We both froze near to death. It had just been in the mid 80’s a second ago, this was an ice age. We laughed at ourselves as if we were delirious. 53 degrees in Chicago in December is a heat wave. Break out the ice cream and sit on the front lawn with it. Open the windows!
Now we were Floridian Fools covered in blankets. Not allowing our fingers and cheeks to feel the air if we can at all help it. I can already picture myself next year..., I’ll have the big Ugg boots to match. I already know it. How else can I get through another Florida winter? Either that, or we are moving to the Equator.
No other sensible or reasonable or sane-minded options exist.
I mentioned the cold makes us delirious now, right?
If you’re a local and booking this ride, dress appropriately. Bring blankets. Pack for summiting Mount Everest.
If you’re a tourist and here on vacation from anywhere up North, never fear, you’ll feel like you’re in the tropical paradise of your dreams as your boat captain plays ‘Pontoon’ from Little Big Town as you race off toward the lights of the night.
Know that if you are looking to obtain quality photos, they will be hard to come by. With all the movement, added into the darkness, even with my hubby’s better camera, we couldn’t really capture the moment digitally with any great detail. Our best photo remains at the top of this post. If the boat had come to a complete stop, plus a tripod, then, maybe, we’re talking. But some things can’t be caught on camera I guess. You know, like Santa Claus. I tend to never capture a great full quality image of him, but I know he’s out there.
If you are in the area, definitely check it out. It’s a holiday tradition and celebration in a beautifully historic town, for all to enjoy, regardless of background, beliefs, and a lovely addition to a family holiday tradition as well. After all, in constant learning about different beliefs and traditions and reasons why others might put candles in the window each December, we are reminded that while we are all different, we are also all the same. Everybody wants Hope. Everyone wants Light.
I’ll choose not to do the ride again as it was costly. But, next year, I plan to view the Lights on foot, in town… off from the water's edge... and on solid ground.
I’ll travel up close and personal.
I want to see the fire lamps.
I want to see the Christmas trees in the window displays. I want to walk the town and see the lights as close as possible. I want to listen for the sound of reindeer hooves on roof tops. And most importantly, I want to look for Santa Claus… I tend to believe he might be hanging around all the dreamy chocolate shops and gift shops and restaurants… blended in amongst the gorgeous and magical Lights of St. Augustine. Yes, those shops seem like a good place to start on my hunt for the big SC. But for now, I’ll enjoy my memory of a coastal Christmas holiday on the water’s edge. ~
What a most lovely of lovely and long, holiday weekends. Everywhere we went, everything we did, everything we saw, was surrounded by the feeling of Christmas in the air. And while I am one who does not partake in the Black Friday festivities that so many Amerian’s do count as part of their holiday traditions - because, as one of my friends posted on her Facebook that day with what I deem to be the utmost accurate declaration ever regarding the day that is so very Black:
“It’s too PEOPLY out there!”
In fact, besides the accuracy of that comment, it also might have been the funniest thing I read in a very long time.
My concurrence with that statement led me to be busy doing many other fun and festive things - instead of shopping.
Black Friday came and went for us, without purchase of any material goods. A most wise decision if I do say so myself. I have no interest in waiting in long lines for something that I can purchase any other day of the year, without such a line. Free snow globe included? No thank you; not worth it.
Instead - we went to Jimmy Johns.
How simple and basic and quite boring of an outing indeed. And boring was just what we were looking for. I decided that any store that would most likely have the biggest crowds and the most ridiculous lines would be all the ones we would skip… And that most restaurants would also most likely be quite busy - due to needing to feed food to hungry shoppers - so those would all be the restaurants we would skip as well. That eliminated basically everywhere on the face of the planet from my list… Where would be open - but completely and utterly EMPTY???
And guess what? I was right.
We drove our car into the parking lot. Not a car around. We walked in. We were their only customers. It was fabulous. We ate at the window counter, bar style seating, as we always do. I’m a regular there. And we watched the traffic go on by up and down Beach Boulevard. Slowly. Yes, it was crowded out there, even in our flat and sandy and salty little corner of the world.
But not so at Jimmy’s place.
In fact, it was so slow inside Jimmy Johns, as we listened to tunes blaring from their speaker with today’s best hits - i.e. music of this very own decade we are currently living in. I mention this because almost everywhere else plays music from the 80’s? Why? Universe… why?
Yes, it was so slow the staff member said something along the lines of, I knew it was going to be slow today, but jeazzzz…. I never imagined it being this slow.
Yes, we picked the most perfect place to eat a sandwich in the entire United States of America on Black Friday. I tended to be of the opinion that not many American’s have an interest in lining up outside the front doors of a sandwich shop at four in the morning, fighting to get in when the doors are opened, just to buy some deli meat?
My opinion tended to be correct, at least from where we sat. No, they were out buying expensive and fancy and enormous TVs, and iPads, and clothing, and more clothing, and appliances, and more appliances. Everything I didn’t feel like waiting in a line for on this Black day.
Yes, we made a great decision. It was a simple and pleasant and peaceful outing. Next time you’re looking for a quick - and healthy - lunch on Black Friday, stop in Jimmy Johns, and avoid the crowded everywhere else of this world.
Right next door to Jimmy Johns and across the small and narrow street, I could see from the window we were watching the world go by from… Is a place called Rockaway. A greenhouse.. A garden center... A Christmas tree lot.
We go to Jimmy John’s a lot. We see Rockaway a lot, sitting from the window of the sandwich shop. I had never ventured over there to date however.
But that blackest of clear blue sky days was different from any other. Something told me that day was the day to visit.
I tend to think my nose told me it was time.
We witnessed car after car pulling up and loading one live tree after another onto the roofs of their vehicles. I had always wanted to venture over there and check it out. They were busy, yes, but they were not busy at all compared to the big box stores everywhere else in the nation.
We finished our simple lunch and walked across the street to the greenhouse.
Instantly! - I smelled Christmas!
If you’ve never smelled yourself some Christmas before, I highly recommend finding some, and put it up to your nose, and smell it.
I could smell the scent of pine and balsam and fraser fir from the road. And the scent only intensified as we got closer and walked into the garden, feet on top of gravel, dirt, and pebbles.
I was in a dream. I had found a slice of heaven. I wanted to bottle it all up, take it home, and keep it forever. Never out of my sight - or away from my nose - again.
We walked through the entire greenhouse and its property. It’s quite a large place! From the exterior, it appears that Rockaway is just a small, single story red farmhouse. A small house, with a vast plot of land surrounding it, all surrounded with various greenery for sale.
But once you traverse inside its quarters, it’s quite larger than its tiny exterior makes it out to be.
I was immediately met with rows and rows of flowers of all kinds. Grasses of all kinds. Greenery of all kinds. Ceramic pots and wall trinkets and other such decor for sale intermixed.
But I went there for the Christmas. So the Christmas I was going to find.
Never fear, my nose led the way.
My nose led me to the far back area of the greenhouse. You know, it’s just like when you need a dozen eggs or gallon of milk or tub of chocolate ice cream from the grocer… The simplest and most basic and most necessary of items needed at the time, they always put in the back of the store.
Silly us, they think we don’t know what they’re doing… It’s all strategic? In order to get to that gallon of milk, that dozen eggs, those tubs of chocolatey and icy goodness, we all have to traverse past every other item in the store first in order to find our basic essentials in life.
To get to all the good stuff, you have to pass up anything else that might tempt your eyes. Ohh, I need that bag of chips. I really could use a loaf of bread… since I’m here. Are we out of juice at home? We better grab some bananas... while we’re at it. And toilet paper. We can’t forget that, heaven forbid.
Yes, it’s Black Friday every day at the grocer. They always know how to make a sale. Have you ever seen anyone leave a grocer empty-handed? Certainly not in my lifetime?! Just put that toilet paper display out prominently on the end cap, where it can’t be missed, slap a yellow sign over it referencing something along the lines of a sale… or even better… 12 = 36… ???... and we’re gold. Jack Pot.
Hence again, why would I ever shop on Black Friday? When I’m buying all that bread and all those eggs and all those tubs of ice cream, and carts loaded FULL of rolls upon rolls of toilet paper, on sale, every other day of the year, anyway?
So my nose led me all the way to the back of the greenhouse. I was met with the most intense fragrance of Christmas. It was naturally the most fragrant standing amongst all the various trees for sale. And I never wanted to leave.
Maybe my husband would have to drag me out of there kicking and screaming all the way?
Ha - maybe I am ready for Black Friday… Fighting for a chance - screaming to be the one. Can I stay here forever? And never part with the dreamy aroma surrounding me. Can I win the prize? Where are all the doorbusters? I’m NOT going home.
We checked out all the trees. Standing there, I immediately imagined myself in Michigan. Years and years ago. Happy memories; very happy memories. I was quite young, so the memories are somewhat fuzzy. But there I stood; on a Christmas tree farm. With all the family - moms and dads, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. We took a hay ride (don’t remember if pulled by horse, but my dreams say yes, there were horses present). The ride took us out onto the farm, to pick out our very own living tree. It was beautiful. It was farm country. It was quiet. It was peaceful. Nature everywhere. It was the best day. It was Pure Michigan.
Looking back, I’m so grateful for my family. All the things we did growing up. All those memories. It doesn’t matter if I can’t remember if it was horses who dragged me out to the tree farm or not. Maybe a tractor was pulling us? Either way, I know I was there. I know I was with my entire family. I am grateful for the time we all spent together. I am grateful for that outing. A lovely outing, that I can remember all these years later. I’m grateful that they, as adults, spent their time, with us, very young children. So that we could have these memories, as adults, today.
I’m grateful and thankful… So much so that as I stood in a small red farmhouse barn, far removed from the farm country of Michigan, three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, in sunny and hot coastal Florida, on San Pablo Island, in Jacksonville Beach, kiddy corner from Jimmy John’s and opposite the local Publix, living a completely different life, and after meeting God himself, on Black Friday, in Rockaway Gardens... roughly thirty years after that family Christmas tree outing, standing there within and amongst that dreamy scent of Christmas… which evoked such happy memories of my Christmas’s past.
Only because of that past am I standing right there, right then.
Only because of that past, am I capable of smelling Christmas in the air, right there, right then, and with that scent also evoke all those happy memories.
We toured the entire greenhouse, inside, and out. We saw various styles of holiday wreaths and swags. The swags are my favorite. Oh wait, scratch that. The wreaths shaped into candy canes are my favorite. Oh wait…
I can’t make up my mind.
If it’s green, smells of pine, balsam, fir, is reminiscent of Christmas - that one is my favorite.
What did you say? You asked if I particularly like the Hallmark Channel this time of year? Yes, I’m a fan. We still don’t have cable, or streaming, though. I can dream.
We turned a corner and were met face to face with an entire room of poinsettias. Just poinsettias. All looking very poinsettia-like. White and red. And one type I never before saw in my entire life. A white, red, and pinkish, mixed and beautifully blended color poinsettia.
I love that one the most.
I thought of my grandma right then, in that room.
Every Christmas she was alive and I knew her, she always gave everyone a poinsettia. I was given one when I still lived at home with my family growing up. I put it on my dresser in my bedroom.
I got married, and hubby and I were given a poinsettia each Christmas. We were also given more poinsettias to pass on to others for her.
She’s been gone for some years now already. Time does fly. But I can’t see a poinsettia, without seeing Grandma.
Moving on, there was an entire area of succulents. Orange trees. Lime trees. Palms. Etc. If it was alive and growing, and taking our carbon dioxide away from our lungs, it was at Rockaway.
And since we were in Florida. And since it was hot outside. Most all of these beauties were all just sitting there soaking in the outdoor sun. Some in the actual greenhouse, some under netting. But mostly, I toured and browsed and strolled through a beautiful outdoor piece of winding garden property; a garden much larger than I expected. After thirty some years of Christmas’s up in the Chicago area, my brain still has a difficult time grasping and understanding the concept that I am still outside, wearing flip flops, shorts and tank, big sunglasses, hot and sweaty, and it’s Christmas time? Where’s the snow?!
I’m not complaining though.
We were nearing the end of our tour. Our informal browsing. We came upon tables set for an upcoming event. I wondered what was going on? There were drink cups out. Many. They were expecting lots of people. At some point in the very near future? Table clothes spread and draped over the tables. Something was happening? I looked up. At the clear blue sky. At the bright and blinding hot sun. I saw the dark evergreen cloud in the sky from the corner of my eye…. Wait. There were no dark green clouds on such a clear blue sky day. My fuzzy vision faded in and out from the bright sun laser-beaming into my eyes.
I was looking up at a large Christmas tree - on the rooftop! Yes, they put a tree up on the roof. I could tell it had lights strung all about it. My memory snapped to attention. I knew what was going on! They were setting up for a party. Rockaway has their own tree lighting, each year… a tree, up on the roof!
Oh rats! We went there during the day! Not at night. We could always come back that evening to see the festivities. Oh wait. Maybe it would be too peoply out there. It was still Black Friday after all. I wasn’t supposed to be out shopping today. I was just out to grab a number sixteen with no mayo and a cup of unsweetened iced tea at Jimmy Johns...
I lost 86 pounds eating that exact sandwich - roughly once a week. It was my weekly “carb” treat. No I did not do a carb-restricted diet to lose the weight. I ate everything, in moderation. But I do tend to consider white bread a treat, so I only ate it about once a week. And somehow throughout my weight loss journey that has since turned into weight maintenance, I started going to Jimmy John’s once a week... You could say my nose led me there. Not out of routine, not out of desperation or a feeling as if because I lost the weight eating Jimmy’s sandwiches then I must keep doing it to keep the weight off? Not that at all. I just like it. That’s all. Someday I might tire of good ol’ Jimmy, but not yet. To be fair, it is kind of hard to tire of fresh white dough raised into fresh white perfect bread.
So yeah, we were out for lunch. We were NOT out to witness a tree lighting. Box shaped stores, or anything else that day. It was the dreamy scent of Christmas that led me to Rockaway. But it was also the thoughts and dreams of my own Christmas which told me to now go home. After all, it was Black Friday. Yes, it definitely was very peoply out there. I’ll go home and put an ol’ Yule Log… on the ol’ You Tube, and trim my own tree.
No, I didn’t buy anything at Rockaway that day. Pennies are tight sometimes. Pennies are watched. I do consider myself a professional shopper and there were many things I wanted to buy there, including swags and candy cane wreaths and poinsettias galore, but I resisted all temptation... I reminded myself that after losing 86 freaking pounds, my wardrobe is still a cluster of nothing that fits me because it was long ago donated to charity, and what remains are only a few quite simple repeating new and fresh outfits that do now fit. I’ll save all the pennies I can for new clothes. 86 pounds of work reminded me I’d rather buy clothes that last a long longer and will come in very handy for me, than a piece of clipped greenery that will surely die by season’s end.
So all purchasing temptations were managed! ‘Tis a rare day indeed for such a pro of a shopper!
But I didn’t leave Rockaway empty-handed. No. The scent of Christmas came home with me. It was all over my hands, inside my very light and empty and missing shopping bags, steamed into my wild hair, and mostly, it was in my nose. In fact, the scent was so strong, I still smelled it on me and on all those new clothes that I had been wearing, later that evening when I got ready for bed.
Yes, it’s very important to surround oneself with such a magnificent and dreamy scent.
Don’t let this beautiful and festive and happy and difficult and challenging and magical season go by without smelling some Christmas into your nose. Don’t waste a moment to catch a breath of fresh pine-scented air. Whether you are standing on a vast and beautiful and picturesque farm up in Michigan cutting down a green tree for your living room, or standing on a coastal barrier island in the south while eating a number sixteen with no mayo… be sure to breathe it all in. Remember all the good times and all the good people in your life that come into your brain when you inhale that special aroma. Then - bottle it up, keep it forever, store it somewhere special where you keep all your treasures, and never remember where you put it. ~
I love bakeries. I love everything created and made by hand inside of bakeries. My favorite bakeries are the small ones - the local ones - the ones that aren’t part of any chain - the ones no one’s ever really heard of, except those who live right there in that same town alongside it.
Sure, I seem to always find time and room for Dunkin and Starbucks, etc. In fact, where else do I run to while on a long road trip but for a Dunkin coffee to keep me awake while I’m driving? But what about all those bakeries scattered across the country that don’t have a drive-thru attached? The bakeries you actually have to get out of your car for, and go inside the building to place your order??? Those bakeries... tend to be the best bakeries.
I like to think that my passionate love of bakeries and their heavenly creations runs in my blood... My grandfather was a baker for well over forty years. And when he wasn’t working, both he and my grandmother were at home. They spent hours upon hours in the kitchen. Always cooking. And always baking. Some of my favorite memories with both of them include time well spent in that small kitchen. My sisters and I helped them cook all kinds of food. But my favorite foods they made were their baked goods, of course.
My Papa taught us how to hand-roll the dough to make kolacky cookies. We always started by pouring flour onto the table-top - that was my favorite part - making a purposeful and deliberate mess. We rolled the dough and we put in the jellied fillings. We watched them bake. My grandparents made hundreds of cookies, each and every Christmas, before their health declined and they could no longer do it. It seemed to me that everyone they knew was given a large and heaping full silver aluminum tray of kolackys to take home and enjoy on the holiday. I’ve yet to be able to replicate those amazing cookies. I am continually determined to try though.
I believe my grandparents teaching us these skills in the kitchen has held influence on my life and transformed my love of food, and really just helped me become the person I am today. Foods are tradition. And when my husband and I bake now, not making nearly as much at a time that my grandparents did in their prime, we are always sure to pass some goodies along to a neighbor, a friend, or to whomever we will be seeing in the coming days.
This holiday season I am looking forward to baking chocolate chip cookies, frosted sugar cookies, and Angeletti cookies with my husband. It is now tradition in my home, and someday I’m going to replicate that kolacky as well… maybe even this year.
When I lived in Illinois, there was an abundance of local bakeries. I could go in any suburb surrounding me, living just outside of Chicago, and find a bakery. There was never a shortage of places to pick up special cookies for Easter, a coffee cake to bring to a party, or a cake for a special occasion. And my hubby’s favorite item served at any bakery are always their frosted sugar cookies. Me - I like the chocolate donuts. Simple, basic, and the best ever.
In my hometown, the Orland Park Bakery is one of God’s best creations. I make it a point to stop there at least once, and most likely always much more than once, every time I go up for a visit.
Some years back, I remember one cold December day, my husband and I decided to make the trek all the way out to Chicago just to visit a local bakery and pick up their special St. Nicholas Day gingerbread cookies. My hubby had them in his youth every year, so we wanted to bring the tradition and memories back, and he really wanted me to try them for the first time.
Well, being a self-proclaimed bakery connoisseur by this point in my life, I should have well known that making the very long trek fighting through Chicago holiday traffic and ridiculously sloppy weather to arrive at a bakery around two in the afternoon... is really not the best time to arrive at a bakery.
Bakeries thrive in the mornings. They are the place to be - in the morning. After almost two hours in the car and arriving mid-afternoon, what in the world was I thinking? We definitely should have gone in the morning for this adventure? But that was a different life I lived, and now I am fully awake by five am daily. Anything later - I tend to consider myself sleeping in.
We parked and walked through the icy cold and the busy and festively decorated street to find the bakery, just about to close. The window displays were empty. And once inside, the shelves were near empty as well. Sold out for the day of all product. I was crushed.
We inquired... And somehow, by some miracle of the bakery Gods up above, they still had a few St. Nicholas Day cookies left… We’ll take them! We were ecstatic. We took all that remained. Thrilled. We also snagged up a pre-arranged box of their sprinkle cookies simply because it was all that reminded for sale, sitting on a counter and patiently waiting to go home with someone. It was only after this outing did I learn that I could actually pre-order special product at bakeries to guarantee them available when I arrive to pick up.
So we were on our way out of the bakery to leave them be as they closed up for the day. It would be many more years before I learned my lesson about “sleeping in” and my enrollment in my own 5am Club membership. To me, at the time, we had simply just ‘lucked out’ that’ they had some cookies left for us to purchase.
We then strolled just a short ways down the street from the bakery and dined at a local Bohemian restaurant. It was an old building, and a place beautifully decorated for the upcoming holiday. It was an altogether lovely outing. An outing entirely revolved around bakery as the destination.
When I moved to Florida, it was my definite perception and really became quite hard to find a good bakery. They weren’t nearly as abundant as they were in Illinois. And when we did find a bakery - it didn’t taste the same as up north! I am extremely biased though...Chicago has the best food, and nothing else even comes close. So it’s very difficult for me to compare the delicious food from the north with the different food in the south.
Today, bakeries are still part of my life. I recently lost a lot of weight and made a complete lifestyle change these past few years. I am much healthier than I was during the earlier part of this decade. I had gained weight during a lot of inactivity, and now I have lost it all, and am quite happy to say that I am very healthy. I lost 83 pounds lost to be exact. I go into great detail on my weight loss journey here if you’d like to check out how I lost 77 of those pounds in one year’s time.
How can I be so healthy now and still eat donuts regularly? The answer is simply moderation. And - Discipline. I can eat ALL THE THINGS. Just not ALL THE TIME. I believe that when one fully grasps and understands that simple and basic concept, it can truly be life-changing.
And I love baked goods so much that I currently plan a once-a-month outing to our local bakery - Cinotti’s, located in Jax Beach, FL. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Declared on the top of each box. I lost 83 freaking pounds, while eating treats and breads and pastas and pizza and ice cream - AND - bakery, lots of Cinotti’s Bakery.
By establishing that roughly once-a-month outing, this allows for me to have the tasty treats that I love and never, ever want to give up, but also allows for discipline and patience in between outings. All that discipline and patience make for a stronger person. I don’t eat donuts every day - I eat them roughly once a month. And as I’m sure you’ve probably read in every magazine out there preaching at you on how to get healthy - don’t restrict. Don’t eliminate… Meaning, don’t erase foods from your life to get healthy. Learn to live WITH the foods you love. Because life is too short not to eat donuts. Just don’t eat them all the time. Simple, right?
These outings are so important to me I classify them by name - and time-and-date stamp them into my iPhone calendar as well. I then share the calendar event with my hubby so he knows when we are going out for donuts. Yay!
We have called these visits many things… Fabulous Friday, Wacky Wednesday, Tasty Tuesday, and Terrific Thursday. Whatever we call it isn’t important though; it's simply putting a name to an event on the calendar that is now tradition. Right now, hubby and I are living through our monthly ‘Totally Terrific and Tasty Tuesdays’ - That means we go to Cinotti’s, once a month, on a Tuesday. And my iPhone tells me as much, once a month. So simple, and sooooo delicious.
And for our November visit to the bakery, our furry baby Madeline was officially included in this little tradition of ours…. When I happened to glance down while we were paying, and underneath the cash register area toward all the little holiday trinkets for sale inside the shop... dog bones! Better yet - BAKERY dog bones! I was thrilled once again. How absolutely and utterly adorable. Made with flour and peanut butter and really just a few simple ingredients safe for a doggie’s tummy, and with a label calling them Canine Cookies… I HAD to purchase them! When we got home Madeline had the single best treat she ever had in her life. I know this not because she told me in English, but because she literally cried out loud for more after she was done with her very special bone. Even dogs love bakery.
And now that I know there is life out there at five am, and that is also roughly when bakeries are usually turning on their lights for the day, we would never now show up at the bakery at such a late hour as two in the afternoon. When that time of the month arrives, and my iPhone vibrates and jingles to tell me it’s our Totally Terrific and Tasty Tuesday, we go outside and exercise before the sun rises, and then head right on over to Cinotti’s. We arrive there fairly early in the morning, when they are fully stocked and selection is overflowing. Parents are bringing in their school-aged children up to the counter so they can pick up a special treat on their way to dropping them off at school. I think of my Papa and all his years upon years of hard work in the bakery. I walk outside carrying my taped, cardboard box of goodness, and I miss him terribly. This box of bakery is a special way of remembering him. Yes, life is too short not to eat donuts. And we bring home our box along with some peanut butter baked dog bones to our very happy, little, eight year old puppy. ~
There’s nothing like a warm and delicious pot of chili to help mark the transition to the fall season. Bean’s Soulful Southern Chili will take you into autumn and boost your enjoyment of this festive and colorful time of year.
Food was such a large part of my family traditions while growing up. Whether we were making by hand homemade Italian rice balls or cookies at Christmas time, German kolaches, PaPa’s pound cake at Easter (always shaped into a lamb, of course), I learned that each food meant a season, and each season was meant to be celebrated. And celebration meant food!
These homemade meals and many more remain a large part of my family traditions today. And as I now find reason to celebrate most anything and everything in life, there is always a food or dish that I can easily match up to help mark any occasion. Whether celebrating a milestone or accomplishment, a season, birthday, or holiday, these events in life go hand-in-hand with appetizing food that’s good for the soul.
And with good food comes... Chili! Plus, to make it even better - Bean’s Soulful Southern Chili is part of my healthy lifestyle. I’m a firm believer that any food, dish or recipe can be made in a healthy and satisfying way. My husband and I cooked this chili recipe many times during the year of my weight loss journey and we continue to cook it today. Protein and fiber were my best friends while losing weight, and they remain my best friends now that I am maintaining weight loss. And this recipe is loaded with both protein and fiber. Check. Check. Hooray!
Why do protein and fiber make me so very happy? I believe both are key ingredients to help me maintain a healthy weight. Both help my stomach feel full - and feel full longer, and both take time and energy to digest. And the feeling of fullness and not overeating to feel that sensation of being full is key; making both protein and fiber crucial components to not overeating, and thus, not gaining weight.
After losing weight I’m very aware that when I’m very hungry now my goal and focus is not to eat more than I should be eating to maintain my weight. If I did eat too much in order to feel that full feeling it can lead to weight gain, even a tiny bit of weight at a time. That seemingly tiny amount of weight gain can add up fast when multiplied meal by meal - real fast; meaning just one meal at a time can lead to weight gain down the road. So, I believe it’s vital to feel satisfied after a meal. Consistently eating a meal and feeling satisfied is important with each meal, every day, and that consistency is key to weight maintenance. And this recipe is well balanced and will help to counteract all those hunger signs. One bowl of this chili for dinner, with a small and sensible dessert, and my stomach is not hungry all evening.
How is Chili a part of my family and food traditions throughout the year? I make this chili recipe guaranteed on three specific dates, plus any other time of year we simply have a taste for it. But these three dates have become a food tradition in my home. I make Chili on the first day of autumn, and I always make chili every year on Halloween, as well as every New Year’s Day. Some of these days are times when we tend to be home… chilling out, reading a book and burning a pumpkin scented candle, or watching a good film. It’s just an absolutely lovely feeling to know that a good and healthy dinner is simmering on the stove top, with not much prep work at all, and helps boost relaxation. So go ahead and make a nice hot pot of chili and sit down with a good book while it simmers.
1.5 LBS lean ground beef
1 sweet onion - chopped
1 large 28 OZ can Cento tomato purée
1 15 OZ can tomato sauce
1 15.5 OZ can dark red kidney beans
1 15.5 OZ can light red kidney beans
1 15.5 OZ can navy kidney beans
1 tsp McCormick Chili Seasoning
1 tsp Peppercorn from a freshly ground peppercorn grinder
1 tsp olive oil
Pinch of sea salt to taste
*Pour olive oil into large pot.
*Put ground beef in pot and start simmering.
*While ground beef is simmering chop onion.
*Add peppercorn and sea salt while simmering.
*Continue cooking beef low to medium heat and as simmering ground the meat with wooden spoon into smaller chunks - not too fine, just small chunks.
*Pour chopped onion into the simmering beef and continue simmering low to medium.
*When ground beef is browned, add all cans of beans, then tomato purée and tomato sauce.
*Add chili powder seasoning.
*Add about one 15 OZ can of water.
*Put lid on pot and simmer on low about an hour, stirring about every 15 minutes.
**Optional: Serve over pasta shells and/or add Parmesan cheese on top.
Now it’s time to feed your soul! ~~
For more of Beans’s recipes, click below:
Beans’s Minestrone Soup Recipe
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